Religious Discrimination

Following up on a post from last week on the issue of mandatory flu vaccine policies, the EEOC seems to be on a march to challenge any employer – particularly hospitals – that denies an employee a requested exemption from a mandatory flu shot for religious reasons.

Last week the EEOC sued Saint Vincent Health Center, a Pennsylvania hospital, claiming that the hospital had unlawfully fired six employees who were denied an exemption from the hospital’s mandatory flu vaccine policy.  According to the complaint, the hospital allotted 14 other employees exemptions from the vaccine based on health reasons, but denied the requests of the employees for religious-based exemptions because they “did not provide proof of religious doctrine.” The health center says they have a vaccination policy that allows employees to apply for exemptions to receiving the vaccine based on health concerns or religious beliefs.

Continue Reading EEOC Continues its “Fight” Against Mandatory Flu Vaccines

As most lawyers and HR professionals know, on June 1, 2015, Justice Antonin Scalia authored a concise opinion, overturning the Tenth Circuit and holding that Abercrombie & Fitch had intentionally discriminated against Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim job applicant, when it refused to hire her because of concerns about her head scarf.  The company had attempted to defend its hiring decision by arguing that Elauf had never disclosed that she was Muslim, or asked to wear the scarf at work.  Thus, it claimed that it could not have discriminated when it had no knowledge that she needed a religious accommodation.

The Court was unmoved by this argument, and held that Abercrombie’s lack of “specific knowledge” of Ms. Elauf’s need for a religious accommodation was not a defense to the claim.  To the contrary, the Court held that a plaintiff need only show that her need for an accommodation was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision in order to prevail. Justice Scalia explained:

An employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.  For example, suppose that an employer thinks (but does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath, and thus may be unable to work on Saturday. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of a religious practice, and the employer’s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII.

The Court thus found that since there was evidence that Abercrombie had known, “or at least suspected” that plaintiff’s head scarf was a religious practice, and considered that headscarf when it decided not to hire her because it violated its “Look” policy, Elauf had presented sufficient evidence to support her claim that her religion was a motivating factor in the hiring decision.  In this regard, the Court noted that Title VII had defined the term “religion” broadly, “to include all aspects of religious policy and observance.”

The Court concluded by noting that the company could not hide behind its “neutral” policy: “Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices …Rather, it gives them favored treatment, affirmatively obligating employers not to ‘fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual because of … such individual’s religious observance and practice..”  SO, an employer can have a dress code, but that ‘neutral’ dress code “must give way to the need for an accommodation.”

I have two observations about this decision, which conflict with some commentaries I have read from other management-side lawyers:

  • First, is this decision a significant change in the law or a sharp turn to the plaintiff’s side for SCOTUS?  I say NO, as it has always been the law that an employer cannot consider religion or religious accommodations when it makes hiring decisions
  • Second, was this the correct result, in light of the specific facts?  Yes.  In fact, when considering these facts, one could see why the Court reached the result it did.

In short, employers should not be in a panic over this decision and may need to just re-affirm existing policies in order to remain compliant with the law.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Abercrombie & Fitch Ruling: It’s the Motive that Matters

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles.  On February 25, 2015, health official confirmed Illinois’ 15th measles case in Cook County.  Most of the nation’s 125 cases are part of a large,  ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to Disneyland in

All reports and the transcript from Wednesday’s Supreme Court argument in the closely-watched Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc. case seemed to reveal a Court that was skeptical of the employer’s position, which is frankly too bad.  Most readers are probably aware of the the facts of the case, but, in

Last month, a North Carolina beer distributor agreed to a $50,000 settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), after being accused of discriminating against a Rastafarian man when it refused to hire him unless he cut his hair.

The man, Christopher Alston, interviewed for the delivery driver position with Mims Distributing Co. back